Long lines formed outside of Atlanta Metropolitan State College for Atlanta Public Schools 2015 back-to-school bash. AJC FILE PHOTO

State auditors’ report cites serious financial errors at Atlanta Metropolitan college

Deficit, lack of proper accounting cited

Atlanta Metropolitan State College finance officials made multiple accounting errors that could make the school susceptible to “misappropriation of funds,” state officials wrote in a recent report.

The 40-page report completed earlier this month by the state’s Department of Audits and Accounts found numerous problems such as:

  • the college could not provide adequate documentation for numerous items reflected in its financial statement including $2,718,431.
  • it could not provide adequate supporting documentation for $2,999,822 of building additions.
  • the college could not provide any HOPE Scholarship Program information that was properly reconciled with the Hope Scholarship Program balance reported on its financial statements.
  • the Food Services fund reported had a deficit of $1,183,434.
  • a revenue shortfall in the school’s new Student Center.
  • the college performed a physical inventory during the year under review and could not locate six items totaling $63,670.

The auditors said they did not discover any missing funds, but worry the sloppy bookkeeping could allow an employee to take money from the college.

“The breakdown of internal control by the Institution…could result in potential misappropriation of assets and misrepresentation of the Institution’s financial position,” the auditors wrote.

Kristina Turner, director of education audits for the state department, reiterated similar concerns via email this week to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

“[T]he internal control deficiencies revealed through the findings indicates the College is at risk for funds to go missing and the loss not be detected in a timely manner,” she said.

Turner said the most troubling finding was the college’s inability to track what is owed to the college and its expenses. For example, the report found the college could not produce documents that show it collected about $2.7 million from some individuals or businesses. Officials said many of the errors occurred with less experienced college administrators completing financial reports before the end of the last fiscal year.

College officials did not dispute the findings and are working with University System of Georgia officials on a corrective plan. They blamed most of the problems on staff turnover including a vacancy in its controller position. The report covered fiscal year 2016, a 12-month period that ended June 30.

The college’s president, Gary McGaha, initally agreed to an interview Wednesday, but college officials said he had scheduling conflicts. On Friday, he released a statement saying the college is taking the recommendations seriously.

“We are committed to working closely with the University System office to develop a comprehensive plan to address the issues cited in the report,” he wrote. “We have already begun to take corrective action. I encourage students and their parents to continue to have faith and confidence in Atlanta Metropolitan State College and the high quality programs that it has offered over the past 43 years and that it will continue to offer in the future.”

The college, a commuter school located near Turner Field has about 3,000 students. Nearly one-half of them are part-time students and older than 25.

At Atlanta Metropolitan State College, no one was fired as a result of the errors. The auditors, though, found two “material weaknesses” in the report, which are errors in financial recording that exceed 3 percent of the college’s operating expenses. By comparison, there were just three other material weaknesses throughout the remaining 28 University System of Georgia schools, officials said.

Financial audits have exposed some misdoings by some Georgia college officials in recent years. Four high-ranking Kennesaw State University officials were fired last year after an audit found several conflict-of-interest and ethics policy violations.

College officials said in the report that they will conduct monthly reviews of its financial books, including HOPE Scholarship ledger entries. Additionally, ledger entries will be reviewed by the controller and associate vice president. It will also conduct a semi-annual inventory. The college is looking to fill two vacant accountant positions.

The auditors made general recommendations of better oversight and submitting paperwork more promptly. The auditors will follow up with the college to make sure it has implemented its plan to correct the mistakes found in the report, Turner said.

Read about similar problems at Kennesaw State bringing down its long-time president in 2016

Atlanta Metropolitan State College

Founded: 1974

Location: 1630 Metropolitan Parkway SW, Atlanta, near Turner Field

Enrollment: about 3,000 students

Tuition: about $95 per course credit

Programs offered: bachelor’s degree, associate degree, certificates

Full-time faculty members: 70

Percentage of part-time students: 48

Source: Atlanta Metropolitan State College website

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